To meet the objectives of this study, interview questions were formulated to elicit responses regarding the stressors, coping strategies, and behaviors of Chinese international students. Grouping of the data obtained from interviews revealed five categories which reflected five broad themes: (1) personal concerns, (2) sociocultural stress, (3) academic pressure, (4) coping strategies, and (5) coping beliefs. Data is presented under each of these broad themes, grouped by subcategories. Examples of respondent’s statements illustrate each theme. Students’ real names are not given, neither is any identifying information, in order to protect their confidentiality.
The theme of personal concerns includes the subcategories of (a) loneliness and homesickness, (b) pressure from dating or marriage, (c) job opportunities and visa problems, and (d) financial pressure.
Loneliness and Homesickness
Students identified being away from family and friends, and missing familiar signs of China as contributing to feelings of loneliness and homesickness. The loneliness and homesickness was basically caused by the long period of separation from their loved ones.
A female music student stated:
I missed my parents in China so much. I have so many friends in China, but here I am alone.
I do not have anyone to discuss what happened to me, what I saw, or how I felt. I am the only student in my department, and there are no other Chinese students around. It is difficult for me to concentrate whenever my homesickness is so intense. Many times, my stress is so high that I cannot focus myself well. I just sit and my brain goes blank. (Participant 12)
Partially responsible for this separation were some policies and regulations formulated by the American government. In recent years, there has been increasing tendency for the American government to reduce the number of entrance visas issued to spouses and other family numbers of Chinese students studying in the United States (Cao 1997). An education psychology student commented:
Visa issues become a salient problem when it comes to paying a short visit. I hope my parents can get a visa to visit me this year, but they have been rejected [by the visa officers] in Beijing again and again. I cried to myself when I felt lonely and helpless. (Participant 16)
When asked why do not go back to China during the summer or winter break, an engineering student explained:
I dare not to go back to China because I am afraid [I] cannot go back the United States again due to the security checks. Last winter, my friend in the chemistry department visited his family in China. His visa application got rejected for several times. Finally, he was too tired to give another try. He decided not to come back to the United States. We all felt pity for him. (Participant 7)
Many Chinese students in the United States dare not to go back to China because they are afraid that they cannot get visas to return once they are in China. Such concern is especially critical for those Chinese students who are majored in engineering, computer programming, biochemistry, and other technology-oriented subjects. As America has increased visa checks, security-type checks, after 9/11, many of them worried that the sensitivity of their majors was a barrier to their visa processing and decided not to go back. It is not uncommon for Chinese students to be able to unable to reunite with parents, husbands, or wives in China during the 3 or 4 years of their sojourn. The long separation from their families poses severe challenges to Chinese students.
Apart from the long separation from the loved ones, respondents’ failure to make connections in the new environment also results in their loneliness and homesickness. A biochemistry student stated:
The first semester was extremely challenging. Worst of all, I did not know anyone with whom I could reduce my stress and frustration. I was the only Asian student in my department when I first got here. I shared an apartment with a French guy who was busy and no time or interest to talk to me. My wife was in China and did not really understand how her once confident husband would suddenly have so much pain in school. Friends in China, oh, no. Emotionally I was at my historical lowest point during the first three months.
I felt my life was just like solitary confinement, with no one to talk with on campus and no car to leave campus. (Participant 9)